Photography

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The Civil War was the first time in American history that photography was extensively used to make a public record of the events that took place. The art of photography was only 21 years old when the Civil War started, but it was already hugely popular in the United States. For the first time, middle class Americans were able to have their portraits taken, since photographs were much less expensive than paintings. Before they left for the war, many Civil War soldiers had their portraits somebody's darling—a dead soldier; taken by traveling photographers or small the name °f a popular Cm1 War song photography studios, usually using a type of photography known as ambrotype. Am-brotypes were one-of-a-kind images made on glass or metal and stored in small glass-covered cases.

Photographers not only took portraits of soldiers, they also traveled to camps and battlegrounds, recording the events of the war before and after they took place. Most of these photographs used a wet-plate negative: a glass plate chemically treated, then exposed to the image from 5 to 30 seconds, creating a negative that could be printed on multiple pieces of paper.

Before the camera was used to record the war, images had to

Ji be sketched by artists. This one of the battlefield was rendered by John Francis Edward Hillen, 1819-1865.

mathew brady

The most famous photographer of the Civil War was Mathew Brady, a very successful portrait photographer in New York before the war. Brady photographed many important political leaders and foreign dignitaries in his studio and was one of the first to use photographs as a way to record historical events.

When the Civil War broke out, Brady recruited a group of photographers to travel throughout the United States, making a photographic record of the battles, soldiers, and cities affected by the war. Brady didn't take many of the photographs himself, but every photograph taken by his assistants was credited, "Photo by Brady," making him very famous during the war. He also bought many negatives of war images taken by independent photographers. More than 5,000 images were taken during the Civil War, many of them credited to Mathew Brady.

By the time the war ended, though, Brady had spent almost all of his money and was nearly bankrupt. Worse, as soon as the war was over, so was the interest in his war photographs. Nobody wanted to buy photographs that reminded them of what they had been through so recently, and Brady's negatives were forgotten. Finally, in 1875, Congress paid him $27,840 for the rights to all of his images. Brady died poor and forgotten in 1895, but was buried in Arlington National Cemetery to honor him for his important photographic work during the war.

Civil War photographers were not out on the battlefield as fighting was happening; the photographic equipment was bulky and delicate, and the process of exposing and developing the images made it virtually impossible to take action shots. What photographers did instead was to photograph the battlefield after fighting had ended, often before wounded or dead soldiers could be removed to field hospitals. Field photographers were known to rearrange dead bodies on the battlefield to make their shots look more dramatic.

Civil War-era photographer's wagon.

civil war facts & trivia

H Timothy O'Sullivan, one of Mathew Brady's field photographers, took images of the Battle of Gettysburg that were so moving, they inspired Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

H Civil War photographer reenactors have resurrected the art of wet-plate photography, making photographs of reenactments in the same way Civil War photographers made their originals.

H Of the thousands of photographs taken during the Civil War, none is of an actual battle in progress.

make your own pinhole camera

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